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Business Travel—Children, spouses turn biz trips into working vacations

It used to be the term “working vacation” meant herding cattle on a dude ranch in Montana. Not anymore.

Deprived of elusive “quality time” with their families, more and more working adults are fashioning business trips into family vacations , and with the boss’s approval, too.

So, if you’re in the business of hosting conventions and meetings or involved in arranging business travel , and looking to tap into new markets , you might want to consider this important new segment; the work/family market.

According to statistics from the Travel Industry Association of America, 66 percent of all business travelers are married and nearly half have children at home.

And although many travelers cited poor diets and flight cancellations as a source of anxiety, the majority , 55 percent , revealed that the strain of being away from home was the factor that caused the most stress, according to a survey by Roper Starch Worldwide Inc., a New York-based market research and public-opinion polling firm.

– Bring The Family

On Business Trips

The solution? Bring along the spouse and kids. Today, 30 percent of all business trips include more than one person and it’s estimated that 17 percent of all business trips include two household members.

“It appears that more Americans are turning their business trips and out-of-town meetings into partial family vacations,” said William S. Norman, president of the Travel Industry Association.

It’s the easiest way to relieve the separation anxiety that occurs when away from home and forced to miss important family events like birthdays, graduations and Mother’s Day.

What’s made this possible is a combination of factors including more productive business trips due to improved technology.

Today’s business executives are often armed with laptops, cell phones, voice mail and E-mail. When they finally arrive at their destination, they find hotels just as accommodating with amenities like business centers, workout facilities, buffet breakfasts and rooms that resemble luxury suites.

Costing on average $129 a night, the suites are perfect for hosting informal meetings or housing rambunctious children.

– Hotel Chains Catering

To Work/Family Market

With a number of hotel chains rushing to cater to the growing work/family market by offering concept rooms to meet their guests’ needs , and an accumulation of frequent flyer mileage , it’s only logical that the business traveler will try to squeeze in the family whenever possible.

And if business travelers feel more productive, and corporations are getting a good return for their travel dollar, according to the Roper survey, it may be one of the reasons why 27 million business trips last year included a child.

“Camp Hyatt, the Hyatt Hotels’ national program to attract repeat child visitors, has seen dramatic growth in the number of kids on business trips,” said program director Ann Lane. The program provides fun activities for the children of any guest for $18 to $62 a day.

If you’re planning on taking the kids or spouse, though, make sure to tell the boss. With weekday travel so expensive, oftentimes a supervisor will approve a weekend stay with a traveling companion if it means the difference between a $1,100 midweek flight or a $295 weekend special.

At any rate, remember that your business task is still the primary factor in your travel, so be sure to clear any plans in advance.

– How To Get Started

On Planning A Trip

Use the Internet as a planning tool. The Internet is especially suited for finding great travel deals, whether it’s airfare, lodging, car rentals, dining, golf, amusement parks or any other type of entertainment. When you finally realize you must travel on a business trip, and you intend to take the family, begin your search on the Web for package deals and reduced rates, then consider passing those savings on to your employer.

It’s not a one-sided street. The travel and tourism industries are always searching for ways to attract business travelers and one of the proven methods is by watching the travel patterns of working adults and creating offers they’re most likely to respond to , including those geared toward children.

In fact, these campaigns have been so effective in luring children, the concept has been deemed the “nag factor,” denoting the influence children have in planning vacations. Certainly, a child’s “nagging” won’t influence a business trip destination, but it might make the difference between squeezing in a round of golf at Torrey Pines or taking a trip to the San Diego Zoo or SeaWorld San Diego instead.

Out of an estimated 93 million adults who took family vacations last year, the overwhelming majority , more than 90 percent , felt that vacation get-aways provided one of the best means by which they were able to maintain their family’s health, well-being and lifestyle. Two of the most important deciding factors they claimed were “value for the money” and “variety of things to do,” both prevalent in San Diego.

Flowers is president of Co-Opportunities, a San Diego-based firm specializing in destination marketing.

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